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Tidal History

Alex McLean

Tidal was originally made by Alex McLean (who is writing this bit right now), while a postgrad student in Goldsmiths in London. It started around 2006, with a DSL to explore pattern rotation presented at a 'pecha kucha' inspired event organised by Tom Carden in London (video here, from 15 minute mark, slides here and videos here (for precursor) and here (for the Haskell experiment)). This was developed further in 2007 into a system for "computational creativity", used to analyse rhythmic continuation in sound poetry, using Kurt Schwitters' Ursonate as an example (see section 4.1 of my MSc thesis for details). Like the Bol Processor 2 (BP2) software it was inspired by, I started off making it for analysis of rhythmic structure, but quickly switched to making it for synthesis, i.e. for making new musical structure. I can't remember the first time I performed with it, probably not too long after that. We lived fast back then!

A bit of backstory.. I was mainly performing as part of the band slub (which we started around the year 2000), and prior to that using a system I made for live coding in Perl called, which you can read about in my 2004 article Hacking Perl in Nightclubs. We were (and still are) part of an international live coding collective called TOPLAP.

Anyway I got hooked on exploring pattern with pure functional programming, and Tidal became pretty central to my PhD thesis.. I was lucky enough to be in the position of spending those 3-4 years (2007-2011) reading around, thinking about and writing about what I thought I was doing with it. As well as the afore-mentioned BP2, A short essay by Laurie Spiegel about pattern language was a huge influence.. and I also dreamed of a visuo-spatial interface for it which I still haven't found the time to properly follow up on.

From the start I'd always shared the code for Tidal under a free/open source license, but it wasn't until 2013 I was invited to do a month's residency at Hangar Barcelona supported by L'ull cec that I really had time and pressure to start documenting Tidal. It was there that I did my first proper workshop in TidalCycles, it was a fun time.

From there it wasn't long until Mike Hodnick discovered Tidal, and started his intensive '365 tidal patterns' project. The first person to do something often gets the credit, but I like the idea that it's the second person to get into something who's really making the leap. So thanks to Mike and all the amazing people who've followed in making Tidal their own.

SuperDirt is also part of the story.. Julian Rohrhuber started this project in 2015, to replace the software sampler that came out of Slub with a souped-up version of it based in SuperCollider with all of the amazing audio processing stuff it offers. Plus people like Lennart and Ben Gold for jumping into the source to add new features. It really feels like a proper free/open source project now.

Also great to see people like Alexandra Cardenas, CNDSD, Calum Gunn, Heavy Lifting, Yecto, Miri Kat, Tadokoro, Lil Data etc, etc (this could be a looong list which I probably shouldn't have started) taking Tidal into exciting new territory all the time.

Feel free to add your history here!!